Summary Judgement:  Thundercats is respectful of its source mythology while simultaneously addressing the fact that its precursor series has not aged well.

Featuring the voices of: Clancy Brown, Corey Burton, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Will Friedle, Larry Kenney and Matthew Mercer

For my first post here at Guys Nation, I thought I would look at the resurrected nostalgia that is the new Thundercats series.

I suppose there’s no easy way to say this, so I might as well just get it over with.  Thundercats 2011 is better than the original, much better.  There, I said it.  At this point I expect people are going to summon up all their nostalgic rage and slag me off for supporting the people who continue to shit on their childhood, or in the words of Deckard Cain they might stay a while and listen.

My regular readers over at The Page of Reviews know that reboots tend to leave me feeling a little unsettled.  The gadfly of creative bankruptcy buzzes louder and louder with each passing day and each passing announcement of a sequel, reboot or remake.  At the same time, there can be value in revisiting a good idea that, in its day, never quite lived up to its potential.

Created by Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass and Ted Wolf, Thundercats, the original, was the Days Of Our Lives of 80s cartoons.  During its original run, the series turned out a new episode every weekday, which over the course of its two-year lifespan yielded 130, 22 minute episodes.  Assuming an animation baseline of 24 frames per second, a single episode of Thundercats needed 31,680 frames of artwork.  It’s no wonder that to adult eyes classic Thundercats looks shoddy and sounds tired.  The artists, scriptwriters and voice actors must have been snorting kilo upon kilo of cocaine to keep up with their production schedule.  So what would Thundercats have looked like if the creative team weren’t working in some sort of Dickensian workhouse? Warm fuzzy feelings for Shetara the original aesthetic aside, probably a lot like this new series.

New Thundercats takes a few liberties with the mythology, but it’s basically the same concept.  Now native to Third Earth, the Thundercats rule a mighty pre-industrial empire from the city-state of Thundara.  In a fashion befitting the ancient Romans, the ancestors of King Cladus (Larry Kenney) and Prince Lion-O (Will Friedle) conquered the vast untamed lands of Third Earth and created a sort of Pax Felina that put the decadent Thundercats at the top of the economic and social order.  Like all people of empires at their zenith, the Thundercats are fat, decadent and in no way burdened by an abundance of humility.  Canines are treated as second-class citizens within Thundara’s mighty walls and lizards, the Thundercats’ greatest enemies, are pilloried in the town square for the amusement of angry mobs.

Where original Lion-O was a bit of a spoiled princeling who needed the other Thudnercats to keep him in line, new Lion-O is an idealist among realists.  Lion-O’s hobby of looking for mythological “technology”, as described in the Book of Omens, leads to his adopted brother Tygra (Matthew Mercer) and father viewing him an irresponsible whelp who shirks his royal obligations.  Despite this, the young heir-apparent views his empire with a healthy dose of scepticism.  Aloud Lion-O wonders if fear and force really are the best way to govern.  Naturally, Claudus and Tygra view Lion-O’s enlightenment as another of his many weaknesses.

True to Thundercats form, disaster befalls Thundara when an army of lizards aided by Mumm-Ra besiege the city…with giant freakin’ battle mechs, all sorts of pew-pew lasers and cruise missiles.  Apparently, technology isn’t a myth.  I won’t spoil anything, but fans of the original series can probably guess how the siege of Thundara ends.

When all was said and done, I found myself rather surprised with just how much I liked this reboot.  With the notable exception of WilyKit (Eamon Pirruccello) and WilyKat (Madeleine Hall), who only appear in three scenes throughout the hour, the voice acting is fantastic.  My apologies to Pirruccello and Hall but children ought not to be used as voice actors.  In what I hope isn’t a short-term role, Clancy Brown as Thundercat General Grune is his usual sublime self.  Even Larry Kenney, the voice of the original Lion-O, has a certain regal quality in his voice as King Claudus that he never possessed as Lion-O.

The story itself is more sophisticated than I was expecting.  In watching the trailers leading up to this premier, I had dared to hope that the writing team would be brave enough to transplant an actual hierarchy into Third Earth’s animal kingdom.  Never did I seriously expect that the downfall of the Thundercats would stem from classism, racism and slavery.  That’s right, slavery.  When Grune returns to Thundara with a giant pile of treasure from beyond the empire, he does so at the head of a wagon train pushed by lizards in manacles.

Given the state of affairs at the end of the first episode, the way has been paved for the once noble Thundercats to become a troop of guerrillas engaging in asynchronous warfare against the Lizards.  Only Snarf, who thank the gods is now a mute, blowing a raspberry at a reflection of himself served to remind me that this is supposed to be a children’s cartoon.  Or is it?

Cartoon Network is airing Thundercats on Friday nights at 8:30.  Granted, most adults like to go out on Friday nights but primetime is primetime.  The politically charged motifs also suggest that Thundercats isn’t aimed squarely at a child audience.  Indeed, with themes that explore idealism versus realpolitik, liberty versus security and the decadence of hegemonic empires, Thundercats seems content to make only the smallest of nods to the child demographic.  It’s too soon to say for sure, however Thundercats presents itself with the same intelligence as something like Avatar: The Last Airbender (the series not the ill-fated movie) or Exo-Squad.

In short, Thundercats return to television feels less like a reboot and more like a window into an alternate universe where the original series wasn’t ground out under a merciless schedule as to make it instantly ubiquitous and thus aid in the selling of action figures.  Given a summer television line-up that has done nothing but disappoint, it’s refreshing to see a classic idea reborn into a form that befits the unsung potential of its origins.

Overall Score: On a scale of -5 to +5, Thundercats is a solid +3

For more of my reviews, rants and podcasts head over to The Page of Reviews.

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